Four or Five Pairs of Pants

11 May

The other evening I got a text from one my two female instructors who were covering classes in my absence as I attended a Rotary appreciation dinner. The report came in: “Class went well.” Those short words referenced the kids class, and meant more than their brevity portrayed.

You see, two weeks ago, those same two ladies covered classes for me and things did not go as well. The class was much larger, the mix of kids was a challenge, and there apparently must have been a full moon; the energy was high and the manners were low. I had to have a talk with the kids and they had to write apology notes. They made it hard for my ladies!

Taekwondo has official tenets. They are: Courtesy, Integrity, Self Control, Perseverance, and Indomitable Spirit. Courtesy is first, and for good reason: if people do not demonstrate manners and respect in any context, things can’t get well or easily done. With manners and respect, even a large group, or a contentious situation, has at least a chance of working out well.

The tenets cover a lot of ground of human behavior and interaction. They are intended to be the things that we foster through our martial arts practice and that we manifest in our greater lives.

Rotary has its own guidelines for life. The primary guide is known as The Four Way Test:

Of the things we think, say or do,

Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR for all concerned?
Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL for all concerned?

This is not a code developed by Rotary for it’s own ends. It was developed by a Rotarian in a business context and is credited with helping to turn around a failing company. The Four Way Test was subsequently adopted by Rotary International as a guide for Rotarian behavior and decisions.

If we develop in the tenets as a result of our Taekwondo practice, we are all certainly works in progress. If anything, we practitioners of longer tenure, higher rank, more authority sometimes seem to fall most short, perhaps because as mentors and leaders, we are under a magnifying glass, held to a higher standard, and can influence more people. Whenever I’ve smugly started to feel pretty good about how much I’ve developed in regard to the tenets, I inevitably find myself severely humbled. My imperfection has the opportunity to be reflected in many mirrors.

In Rotary, the Four Way test is frequently recited at weekly meetings. Rotarians are often given cards with the test written on it that can be carried in a wallet, or a medallion that can be pocketed. What if that card was kept before us at all times in regards to the things we think, the things we say, and the things we do?

Virtually every day I take to heart how I might better think, say and do according to these and other behavioral and ethical signposts. I try to come before them openly and – very importantly – EMPTY and HUMBLY. I’m not saying I get it right all the time. Half would be awesome. I was once told by a wise Great Grandmaster, “If you’re 51% you’re winning.”  Think positive! Imagine 65 percent!

Of course, there would be no churches if we were all saints. As a sinner, if you will, I’m working on better loving myself and loving others. Still, it often pains me to review my own failings and also to see the apparent shortfall of others who, particularly because of their status, tenure or influence, might better take their guidelines, their tenets, their test, a bit more seriously.

Perhaps progress in this area is no different than progress in the physical practice of Taekwondo, where we show up and then we practice, one repetition, one kick, one punch at a time. With some degree of intentionality. No going through the motions. Overcoming the inertia. Timidly or courageously stepping out of our comfort zones to do it a bit differently, a bit better, every time. And sometimes it even hurts a little bit. And then later it feels good.

Maybe we build our behavioral and ethical muscles in the same manner: show up, pay attention to the guidelines and principles, and try to apply them, one opportunity at a time. Intentionally. No going through the motions. Timidly or courageously stepping up to move beyond our comfort zone. Working to make that next interaction, that next decision, that next choice, a bit better than the last, every time, even if it hurts. Trusting that later it will feel better.

I am reminded of the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Morally, ethically, spiritually, I want to intentionally put on my big-boy pants. Or, perhaps, my uniform pants. I certainly had better be wearing my pants: after all, I’m standing in front of everyone. I’m in charge!

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